Baylor made that clear Saturday afternoon in Morgantown, using its size and strength to all but bring West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament hopes to an end.
The Bears (18-9, 6-8 Big 12) outscored the Mountaineers 38-12 in the paint, blocked 10 WVU shots and overcame an eight-point Mountaineer lead in the first half to secure an 88-75 win, the Bears’ fourth straight.
“We had a week between games,” said a visibly frustrated WVU head coach Bob Huggins, who has now seen his team drop back-to-back games after putting itself back in tournament contention with four wins in five games. “I talked to them about our commitment to excellence. When you give up 38 points in the paint, that’s not commitment. How can you say you guarded anybody?”
WVU (15-12, 7-7 Big 12) got a huge effort from sophomore Eron Harris, who nailed his first six 3-point attempts and finished with 32 points. Junior point guard Juwan Staten added 16 points, but with Terry Henderson out with an illness, the WVU backcourt got little help. Nobody else scored in double figures, and the Mountaineers shot just 32.1 percent in the second half.
“It doesn’t matter what I did,” said Harris. “We didn’t win the game, and that’s what we wanted to do.”
The most noticeable problem came on the defensive end, where WVU had no answer for the Baylor big men. Sophomore center Isaiah Austin (7-foot-1, 225 pounds), senior forward Cory Jefferson (6-9, 220) and junior forward Royce O’Neale (6-6, 220) combined to score 56 points, grab 20 rebounds and block nine Mountaineer shots. O’Neale, who came in averaging just six points per game, scored 22 to go along with six rebounds and six assists. He was a perfect 8 for 8 from the field.
“You always try to see the best in your players, but you know they normally aren’t going to go 8 for 8 and perfect from both the 3-point and free throw line,” said Baylor head coach Scott Drew of O’Neale’s effort. “Those points were huge, and he also played great defense.”
The inside dominance opened up the perimeter, helping point guard Kenny Chery score 13 points and sharp shooter Brady Heslip 12. O’Neale also knocked down the 3-ball, finishing 4 of 4 from long range.
“We watched so much film on them and played them once,” said Staten. “We hadn’t seen him do what he did tonight. But it’s college basketball. Everybody on the roster is good, or they wouldn’t be there. When he starts making shots, we have to make adjustments.”
WVU led for most of the first half, and after holding a 9-8 lead with 15:11 left to play in the opening frame, Baylor didn’t lead again until taking a 50-49 advantage six minutes into the second half.
The Mountaineers kept themselves in the game with shooting, scorching the nets with 6 of 8 shooting from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes.
But when the shots stopped falling, the defensive breakdowns eventually caught up as Baylor continually got to the rim for easy buckets.
“They made it harder for Eron in the second half,” said Huggins, pointing out that the sophomore was WVU’s only scoring option for much of the game. “They left a bunch of the other guys open, but they just didn’t make shots. But that wasn’t the frustrating part. The frustrating part was that they scored every time they went down the floor.”
Five players finished in double figures for the Bears, who evened the season series with WVU after losing by 66-64 in Waco, Texas, on Jan. 28.
WVU will be back in action Wednesday on the road at Iowa State at 8 p.m. The Mountaineers beat the No. 17 Cyclones 102-77 in Morgantown earlier this month.
“I think we can beat them again if we play our game,” said Harris. “It’s going to be hard, but we’re going to work toward it. We want to finish out the season strong.”
Baylor, trying to improve its own NCAA hopes, will be at Texas Tech on Wednesday.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter@CamHuffmanRH.
O’Neale 8-8 2-2 22, Jefferson 5-13 4-5 15, Austin 8-14 3-6 19, Chery 5-11 3-4 13, Heslip 4-7 0-0 12, Gathers 1-3 2-2 4, Franklin 1-3 1-2 3, Prince 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-59 15-21 88.
WEST VIRGINIA (15-12)
Dibo 2-4 0-0 6, Williams 1-6 3-6 5, Adrian 2-7 0-0 6, Staten 6-16 4-5 16, Harris 9-17 8-8 32, Browne 2-4 3-4 8, Watkins 0-0 0-0 0, Noreen 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 22-55 20-25 75.
Halftime—West Virginia 42-36. 3-Point Goals—Baylor 9-20 (O’Neale 4-4, Heslip 4-7, Jefferson 1-3, Austin 0-1, Franklin 0-2, Chery 0-3), West Virginia 11-21 (Harris 6-9, Dibo 2-3, Adrian 2-6, Browne 1-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Baylor 34 (Jefferson 12), West Virginia 31 (Williams 9). Assists—Baylor 15 (Chery 7), West Virginia 9 (Staten 6). Total Fouls—Baylor 18, West Virginia 17. A—11,843.